By Erica Bell & Katie Finnegan (Co-Founders, Hukkster)
One year ago today, with the holiday shopping season upon us, we were frustrated. We had insanely busy jobs. (But who doesn’t?) We had recently both left our positions at one of the world’s leading consumer retailers and moved into the world of management consulting. With this move, our cherished employee discount disappeared. But that was fine, we thought, until the emails started piling up.
Searching through the special offers and “limited time” deals that were flooding our inboxes was like searching for a needle in a haystack. Ultimately we would just give up. We felt defeated and just knew there had to be a better way.
Here is what we learned on the entrepreneurial journey:
Lesson #1 – Intimately understand the problem you’re solving
Everyone can relate to email overload, and it’s even more real when the sender is one of your countless favorite retailers. (I know I don’t need to expand on this further. It’s a universal pain.) Then there was the idea of “might.” All of these emails push styles you might like. It’s an entirely one way conversation from retailer to consumer. At mass quantity, that drove us crazy. Every morning we were each pouring through so many emails from retailers that we simply glazed over.
That sort of intimate understanding of the problem is critical to developing a solution and, moreover, committing to building a company around that solution. We knew there had to be a better way. Retailers needed to communicate better with customers. We spent a few months really narrowing down the problem we were trying to solve. We ultimately arrived at the fact that we needed a tool that would track the price fluctuations on specific products and notify us when they went on sale. We set out to reverse the “push” model and create a “pull.”
Lesson #2 – Think outside the box, roll up your sleeves and get from point A to B
We knew that this was what we had to build. Then another hurdle: we’re not engineers. But you know the best way to dive into something? You dive all in. As we assessed the product and business plan, we utilized our existing skill set to get things going. We knew the ins and outs of retail economics. We understood retailer inventory. We didn’t let our burgeoning technical skills hold us back. In fact, we soaked up everything we could, attending tech Meetups, talking to other entrepreneurs… literally everything you can think of.
Through all that, we were able to build an MVP. The “M” there can stand for either minimally or manually because we were literally powering the first version of Hukkster ourselves. We would wake up in the middle of the night and do price checks for our pool of test users. But in that crazy effort, we proved our concept.
Lesson #3 – Talk to anyone who will listen
Then came the reality that we needed people. People to use Hukkster. People to fund Hukkster. People to find problems with Hukkster. People to evangelize. People in retail. People in tech. People to help with design. People to market. People to intern. People to introduce us to their people. Ultimately it came down to talking to anyone who would listen. But it wasn’t just the standard elevator pitch. When you talk to people about your company, you have to radiate excitement without being pitchy. As David Cohen recently said in the Wall Street Journal: “Be passionate. Talk endlessly about what you love. Tell people what your startup stands for.”
Fast forward to today -
We have built Hukkster into a real company. We serve 40,000+ members and our reach is rapidly growing. We raised $1 million in seed funding. We’ve been lucky to interview with the likes of the New York Times, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC and even appear on the TODAY Show.
And from two female entrepreneurs to others, that’s a story we’re always excited to share. Hopefully, there are a few worthwhile lessons in there.
Women 2.0 readers: What are your startup lessons learned? Let us know what you’re working on the comments below.
About the guest bloggers: Erica Bell is Co-Founder at Hukkster, an online shopping tool that helps you track products on sites you love, get notified when those products go on sale and gives you the ability to buy when the price and time are right. Erica holds a B.A. in English Literature from Barnard College of Columbia University. Follow her on Twitter at @EricaAshleyBell.
About the guest bloggers: Katie Finnegan is Co-Founder at Hukkster, an online shopping tool that helps you track products on sites you love, get notified when those products go on sale and gives you the ability to buy when the price and time are right. Katie holds a B.A. in History and Religion from Colgate University and an MBA from Duke University. Follow her on Twitter at @katiefinnegan.